What the Heck is a One And Done? A Guide to a popular NASCAR game
We are a scant few weeks away from the start of the 2024 Nascar Cup Series season, and one of my favorite pools to be in is the season-long "One-and-done" style racing leagues. The way most of these leagues work is that you choose a driver you think has a good shot at finishing well every week. You are awarded the same points the driver chosen earns, and hopefully, you will be the top dawg at the end of the 36-race season. Then it's done; you can't select that driver again for the rest of the season. It's pretty simple yet a deeply strategic game. There are 36 races and 36 chartered teams. You will have to use a "backmarker" team at multiple points in the season. Drivers may be injured, and substitutes may be needed in the event. Several other drivers, like Shane Van Gisbergen, who never raced in NASCAR before and won at the Chicago street course last July, are all part of the wild cards that play into the game, keeping you interested all season long.
In the years I've played this game, I've seen three main strategies play out to win the top prize. Aggressive early, or the "Parachute Theory," the "Steady Hand" strategy, and the conservative "Late Bloomer" strategy. Let's take a look at how each one plays out!
The "Parachute Theory"
Do you hit on 18 or higher at the Black Jack Table? Is "Just gonna send it" a big part of your lexicon? Then, the "Parachute Theory" is your style of the game. You'll go aggressive early and often in the first ten races of the season, looking to hit on high scores early with the best of the best in NASCAR, and "parachute" your way to the end of the season, burning up your backmarkers late in the season. This strategy worked reasonably well last year if you hit on some of the more dominant performances by Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin early. The more conservative approaches using those same drivers later in the season would not have earned as many points. However, if you got burned on Chase Elliott early, conservative players were racking up 30+ points with Elliott. At the same time, you collected single digits with not only a bad Elliott finish early on but also BJ Mcleod; you had to start as the season came to a close.
So, to play this strategy, the first five races of your season are Daytona, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Bristol. Two Superspeedway races to start are wild cards for sure, but we can get some solid information in past performances. At Daytona over the past four races, Joey Logano has been far and away the best driver in the next-generation era despite not winning a Daytona race in that era. (all stats cited are courtesy of Racing-Reference.info) His 164 points are 21 points higher than the next closest driver, Martin Truex, Jr. Is Joey Logano better anywhere else? Maybe, but if we're just sending it, Logano is my Daytona 500 Pick. Atlanta had a reconfiguration to a Superspeedway-type of track at the end of the 2022 season, so we'll use the last 2 Atlanta races. The results are much tighter, but You have a good shot with Logano again, or fellow Ford Drivers Brad Keselowski or 2023 Champion Ryan Blaney. At Las Vegas, William Byron and Ross Chastain have been the class of the field in the last four races, with average finishes of 6.5 and 5.5, respectively. At Phoenix, Ryan Blaney has been the class of the field, with the only driver close to Blaney's performance being William Byron. In ending this exercise, Bristol's spring race will be back on the concrete. Kyle Larson, in 3 races, has scored more points on the hard surface than everyone except Chase Elliott in 4 races.
If these five picks work out, you'll have a super start, scoring a potential average of 48 points per race in the first four starts. That said, you've likely used five playoff-contending drivers early and will have to rely on some luck and superior performances out of drivers like Michael McDowell, Corey LaJoie, and Cody Ware deep into the playoffs to keep the "late bloomers" at bay.
The "Steady Hand" Approach
This is arguably the hardest strategy to use, but it can give you the best chance to pivot to either "Full Send" or "Late Bloomer" if you go on a heck of a run, good or bad. It's a mathematical approach where you look at where you are versus the leaders, what you need to score per week to win, and minding any large gaps between tiers of your league players as the season progresses. I like to look at last year's winner to start the season and the median of the top 5. In one league I was in last year, the top 2 scored a whopping 30.66 pints per week. They nailed on a few dominant driver performances early and never looked back. The rest of the top 5 are a mix of Steady Hand and Late Bloomers. The Meidan top 5 score is 29.4 points per week. With that in mind, you'll have to decide whether or not you want to chase upside early or go with a consistent result. Average start and finish are big deciding factors in this strategy. Despite superspeedways being considered a wild-card event, some steady drivers always seem to bring the car home with the fenders on it. In looking at the last four Daytona races, Chris Buescher has an average start of 8th and an average finish of 12th, with an average point total in four races of 31.25, right where you'd want to be to start the season. Another solid Daytona driver is Bubba Wallace. His average start of 16.3 and an average finish of 11.3 with an average point total of 32.5 also give you a potential solid start to the season. Austin Cindric, in two Atlanta races, has started 6.5 and 11.5 with an average point total of 40.5 points. Las Vegas is where Alex Bowman, in three races, has a win and an average finish of 13th and 32.66 points if you're looking to be bold, or Justin Haley has an average finish of 15.3 in 4 races with a top 10, and 21.75 average points if you want to be conservative and save an Alex Bowman start. Phoenix has been good to the SHR cars, with proven entities Ryan Preece and Chase Briscoe showing well with average point totals of 38 and 24 each. Josh Berry and Noah Gragson could show well and be nice differentiators if there's some momentum built. At Bristol, Ryan Preece pops up again with an average finish of 12.7, Michael McDowell at 12.8, and Erik Jones at 14.0.
Given this strategy, each week, you're hunting for drivers you think are going to be close to, or better than, the leader's weekly average while saving star drivers for tracks where they show dominant performances to rise and using lesser drivers at their best historic tracks to build your baseline. You'll have to do research on which playoff tracks have dominant playoff drivers to maximize your late-season standings rise and plan your season to have those 50-point weekends late when the leaders are rolling out single-digit performances. Unless you have a bad week early, you shouldn't be using playoff-caliber drivers in your first five weeks.
The Late-Bloomer Strategy
It's scrubs over stars no matter what for the first 10, possibly 15 races of the season, if you can help it. Your stars shine in the playoffs, where you seemingly come from nowhere and take the crown with Ryan Blaney as your final starter, while last week's leader had to use Ty Dillon. Strict discipline and the same amount of luck that the "Send It" guys have to have early on to jump to their early lead. You're hoping to get lucky with the lowest possible investment and highest possible return. Last year, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr got you a Daytona 500 win, Corey Lajoie got you a 4th in Atlanta, Justin Haley got you an 8th at Las Vegas, Josh Berry 10th at Phoenix in the 9 for Chase Elliott, and Carson Hocevar finished 11th at the night race on concrete in the 42. You could have a lead, if not a solid top 5 run, without using a single playoff driver early on. Now, it's a pretty significant task hitting on five in a row, and this list included two substitute drivers that may not happen in 2024.
Working this strategy starts with who you believe will be putting their best foot forward in the playoffs, pegging those drivers and tracks to the final ten races, and then working your schedule backward from the last ten races. You're looking at every track, charting where each driver is the best at their respective tracks, placing them where you want them, and also weighing if they have 2-3 good tracks, which ones are better than the playoff tracks. It's not hard, but a little mundane.
One-and-done leagues are a great way to stay interested in the sport for the season, and you have a chance to root for almost every driver in the series. If you're interested in joining a league, my DMs are open on X @dirtyairFC.